Friday, September 14, 2012

All Together Now

Sermon preached September 9, 2012

Texts: James 2:1-7; Mark 7:24-37

His name was Ed. I can’t remember just what grade I was in at Lester Park Elementary when I met Ed, but Ed stood out. His skin was a little darker, though I never really thought much about that. His clothes were a little dingy. His body gave off a distinctive odor. Because of that, Ed was often teased, and often left out. I never knew much about Ed, though the story was that he had a big family and had to share a bed with brothers.
Anyway, I am not sure why, but I felt bad for Ed. I noticed the odor, but didn’t think that was enough for people to be mean. I empathized with his predicament, feeling left out. I reached out to include Ed on the playground or in class. It seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe something Iwas learning in Sunday School and at home was having an effect. After a couple of years, Ed’s family moved and he was no longer in school with me. I don’t know what ever happened to him.
I tell this story not to tout my moral heroism from childhood on. I tell it because I still remember it, and I tell it fully aware of other failings on my part to be inclusive, to reach out. Kids can sometimes be cruel and excluding. Sometimes to feel in, we collude and keep others out. Most of us know both sides of that experience – being in, feeling left out.
Thinking about this I also remember poets I read in high school. They are the only two poets I remember reading in high school though I am sure there must have been others. My love for poetry developed later. So I remember the poet Carl Sandburg, and I remember that one time he was asked what he considered the ugliest word in the English language. “The ugliest word in the English language is exclusive,” the old poet said.
I remember Robert Frost, he of the two roads diverging in a wood. In one of his poems (“Mending Wall”) Frost wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Later in the poem he reflects, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out.”
The human experience is often of walling in or feeling walled out. Our human experience is filled with times when we have felt excluded or we have excluded. Though there may be something in us that doesn’t love a wall, the roots of exclusion run deep in the human heart. Psycho-social theorists offer a number of explanations for the human tendency to exclude, to draw lines that differentiate between in and out. That tendency is rooted in our need for self-esteem and self-significance (Rollo May, Power and Innocence). One unhealthy way we bolster ourselves is by putting others down. That tendency is rooted in our fear of death (Ernest Becker, Escape From Evil). If we can become part of a larger, exclusive group, we live on in a certain sense. That tendency is rooted in a discomfort with our own shadow side, those internal things that we project onto others so we don’t have to deal with them in ourselves (Jung, in Becker, 94-95).
We have a tendency to exclude, and when we are at our best, we struggle against that tendency. Might Jesus have been struggling with that tendency in today’s gospel story? Being fully human, he was born into a certain culture and would have been influenced, as we all are, by cultural understandings of in-groups and out-groups. Is this a story about struggling with the human tendency to exclude? Perhaps. What is most important to note is that walls are broken down, potential exclusion becomes inclusion. As a good Jew, Jesus should not have been talking to a woman, let alone a Syrophonecian woman. But he discovers a rather remarkable person – a woman displaying enormous care for her daughter, a woman of wit and intelligence. For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter. The humanity of the other person is affirmed. She is no longer outside, excluded.
The very next story continues the theme of inclusion. Jesus is traveling in Gentile territory. The Decapolis was a name for a region of ten Greek cities. Here, too, there are hurting people, and Jesus takes time for one, touching him, bringing healing.
But if you like your lessons straight up, James gives it to us that way. He recognizes the human struggle with exclusion, labeling people in and out, favored and not. My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? James pushes us to see the humanity of all and to widen the circle of care.
I can’t help but think that these scriptures might speak to us as we consider constitutional amendments about marriage and voter id in November, but I don’t want to say more about that now. We will have Faith Forum discussions about each of these issues in the coming weeks.
Friends, Christian faith is about our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but not only about that. Christian faith is about eternal life after death, but not only about that. Christian faith is about creating community, about bringing different people together who can walk with each other on their journey with God in Jesus. It is about mutual respect and care. It is about widening the circle. It is about seeing the image of God in others, all others.
Right here, right now it is about two streams, one river. I have been using that image to talk about the coming together of Chester Park United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church. Two streams, one river. We are all together now, and all have a place and all are important. Christian faith for us, right here, right now, has something to do with being all together now. It is not that every person here will be best friends with every other person. It will be that there are possibilities for friendship in faith here, and always mutual respect.
As we come together, the task before us is more than combining the two streams of our histories, people, and communities of faith. The task before us is to make sure the one river is a river flowing with living water. We want our river to flow with the living water of God’s Spirit. We want our river to flow with the living water of faith, hope and love. We want our river to be a river where justice flows down like water, and righteousness like and ever flowing stream.
And friends, when the river of our life together in Jesus is flowing with living water, there will always be room for more. We will keep widening the banks. God is not done adding to our river here. We will embrace any who want to join us on our journey with Jesus. We will welcome all. We will invite others who need a little of the refreshing water of God’s Spirit in their lives.
This is who we are. This is who God is calling us to be - two streams, one river, a river flowing with living water, embracing all, recognizing the image of God in all. All together now.
We are going to reaffirm our commitment to our faith and to our faith community. We are going to dedicate ourselves to the work of two streams, one river and that river to flow with the living water of God’s Spirit and God’s inclusive love. All together now.

Adapted from Ruth C. Duck, Bread for the Journey
The church is a family of people with varieties of gifts, united by the Spirit revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Spirit of caring for one another, of forgiving, of helping each other, of love revealed in the life and death of Jesus. All together now:

The church is the people of God, with a diversity of needs, ideas, and visions, inspired by the Spirit burning through the words and deeds of Jesus as recorded in Scripture. May that same Spirit rest upon us. It is the Spirit of openness to the world and to all people as our sisters and brothers, of continual searching and learning and of saying, “We believe, help our unbelief.” It is the stirring toward growth and renewal that takes many forms. All together now:

The Spirit of the Christ calls us into a life of servanthood, even when it means suffering. The Suffering Servant bears the grief and sorrow of others, and trough suffering brings wholeness. All together now:

The Spirit of the Christ which was present in Jesus is the Spirit of the Exodus – the Spirit that opts for liberation and justice. The cries of the brick-makers in Egypt and throughout history have been heard by the God of the Exodus. All together now:

The Spirit of the Christ which was present with Jesus is the Spirit of covenant formation, of community-building. We stand in a line with a great cloud of witnesses that include Abraham and Sarah, Miriam and Moses, Esther and David, Job’s daughters and the sons of the prophets, Martha and Jesus, John Wesley, Jacob Albright, Philip Otterbein and Martin Boehm, our forefathers and foremothers from Chester Park UMC and First UMC, and brothers and sisters in our midst who stand open to the Spirit’s bidding. All together now:

The Spirit of the Christ is also the Ruler of creation. The Spirit that was the creative brooding Presence in the midst of the waters of chaos is still moving in our midst and in the midst of the ongoing creation of the world to bring order out of chaos, unity in the midst of disunity, life in the midst of death. All together now:

As followers of God in the Jesus way, we enact the embrace of God’s grace and love through the waters of baptism. Remember your baptism and be thankful.

As baptized people, we again say “yes” to God – Creator, Christ and Spirit, when we become part of the community of faith, of The United Methodist Church, and of this congregation of The United Methodist Church. I ask you all together now to renew your commitment to uphold the ministries of this church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness, that in all things God may be glorified. All together now: YES

This is a day of new beginnings. Amen.

1 comment:

TST said...

Thank you David for including the reaffirmation and commitment to our faith and the church on this blog. I was moved and energized by reading the words and personally reaffirming. I know it would have even had a bigger impact if I was present last Sunday - my loss.

The church is growing so much energy and spirit, thank you for your leadership. Teri